Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Olmert’s Invitation to Tea | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert categorically rejects any peace with Syria unless Syrian president Bashar al Assad meets him personally. He expressed a similar position towards the Arab Peace Initiative, saying that Arab leaders should meet with him to negotiate the idea.

Does Prime Minister Olmert really want peace or does he want to embarrass Arabs through an issue that he already knows cannot be settled before negotiating and reaching an agreement that requires meeting, signatures and perhaps shaking hands?

Everyone knows that reconciliation cannot be reached by drinking tea in Olmert’s office but rather through marathon negotiations, patience, and confidence before the two parties sign the agreement. We cannot forget the lessons learnt from the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations because the late President Anwar Sadat, in spite of his historical trip to Jerusalem, was able to reach an agreement only two years after complicated negotiations during which many ministers resigned, accusations were cast, and US former president Jimmy Carter intervened to salvage it. Therefore, the visit, the handshakes and the gathering are only formal steps; however, the hard job is assigned to officials from the two governments who can negotiate. Therefore, why didn’t Olmert accept any formula for negotiation at any level and via any mediator if he is keen on establishing peace?

Olmert knows very well that Bashar al Assad will not go to Jerusalem only to drink tea, even if he knew that the Israeli Prime Minister would give him the Golan Heights, the river [in reference to the Jordan River], and the occupied Syrian part of the lake [a reference to the Lake Tiberias]. Al Assad wants to reach this conclusion and its foreign guarantees in advance before signing an agreement. Therefore, the present conception is more interested in propaganda than a political solution, though reconciliation can be achieved today more than ever.

Unfortunately, everyone knows that Olmert is not like Yitzhak Rabin, who was more courageous and ready to take steps towards practical and viable peace. Since the anniversary of last summer’s Israeli-Hezbollah war is forthcoming, any Israeli politician should realize that the world is changing, as Israel is no longer fortified behind plateaus, rivers, artificial and natural barriers as well as the military excellence over Arabs. At the same time, some Arabs actually want a real and everlasting peace despite the increase of extremism and rejection.

Arab governments declared and pledged a collective peace with Israel if the Israelis want this. However, failure is apparent in Tel Aviv where there is no political leader who is able to take a historical step towards a comprehensive, practical and real peace for the whole region rather than returning the Golan Heights or the Shebaa Farms. Rather than wasting his short time in power on propaganda, Olmert should seize this historical opportunity by putting an end to the dispute with 20 countries that would make him greater than Menachem Begin who signed the Camp David Accords, Yitzhak Shamir who went to Madrid [for peace talks], Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated as a result of the Oslo Accords, and Ehud Barak who opened the door to negotiation for establishing a Palestinian state.